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This Parasha has the distinction of being the only one in the last four Books of Moses that does not contain the name of Moses. Whereas the directives to construct the Tabernacle are introduced with the typical 'G-d spoke to Moses saying' (25:1), those to prepare priestly garments are more direct - of the 'you command… you bring near… you make' variety. Moses' name does not appear.
Homiletically, commentators explain this absence by referring to the story of the Golden Calf. After justice was executed against those most directly involved, Moses included in his prayer to G-d: 'If You forgive their sin - and if not, wipe me out from the Book You have written' (32:32). Rashi explains this cryptic sentence to mean the following. 'If You forgive their sin - good! But if not, take my life and remove any mention of me from the Torah, for I cannot be a leader who failed to gain mercy for his people. G-d's response was that 'on the day of my account, I shall bring up their sin against them' (32:34). Rashi says this means that any Divine punishment suffered by the Israelites in the future will include an element for the sin of the Golden Calf.
Thus G-d accepted Moses' prayer to forgive the Israelites - but not unconditionally. As the forgiveness was not absolute, commentators note that Moses' name was 'wiped out' as it were, from only a section of the Torah - namely the part containing this week's Parasha.
This contrasts with Jeremiah, whose name does appear to be 'wiped out' from the Book. The Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a) notes that he is the author of the Book of Kings. Yet his name does not appear there even once. He does however, appear in a parallel text in Chronicles II (35:25) ascribed to Ezra (ibid), in his lament over King Josiah's death in battle near Megiddo: 'Jeremiah lamented over Josiah…'
Why did Moses put himself on the line? Why did he attempt to 'force the hand of G-d' so to speak, by 'threatening to resign' if He said 'no'? And yet Jeremiah seems to have done the same thing. And that time, G-d did say 'no'. For when G-d said that he would be unsuccessful in his mission to correct the wayward people of Judea (Jer. 1:19), the rest of the Book shows that He meant it.
Why did Moses put himself on the line when G-d might have said 'no'? Why did Jeremiah appear to put himself on the line when he was told that he would get a 'no' and yet persist?
One possibility in tackling this issue lies in comparing the respective ways Moses and Jeremiah approached those he wished to lead and influence.
Whilst still in Jethro's household in Midian, Moses replied to G-d's declaration of his mission with 'they (the Israelites) will not believe me… I am not a man of words' (4:1,10). He made it business to gain the credibility of the confidence of those he wished to lead before setting the Exodus into motion. By the time the Israelites were on their way to the Holy Land, his fortunes were their fortunes, and their fortunes were his fortunes - despite a few Israelites resisting Moses on specific isolated occasions. He was the central pole of a large circular tent without which the tent would not stand.
Thus it made sense for Moses to put himself on the line, because at that stage the Israelite nation would not be able to carry on without him.
Unlike Moses, Jeremiah acted in relative isolation. He brought G-d's word to the people without (being recorded as) making a serious effort to win their trust, friendship, and confidence. He spoke the truth, and brought the Word of G-d and His direst warnings to the temporal leaders of the people. But he was not 'one of them' - one of the upper ruling classes through which he sought to influence the masses. He was a priest - an outsider. His lot was not their lot. He did not throw his destiny in with the people whom he wished to influence to the degree that 'Jeremiah and the people would be one'.
So Jeremiah could be 'blotted out of the book' - however sincere he was, his lot was not his people's lot. [He was not even exiled to the same place] He was an external. Judaism and the Jewish people carried on independent of Jeremiah - in the exiles, and in the return. Moses, by contrast, was the people. They could not carry on without him. He achieved his leadership by throwing his lot in with the people. Therefore he could take the 'gamble' and 'win' as G-d would not wish His People to be 'ended' in this way.
This then brings us a message about true leadership. One who successfully influences and gives direction has to do so by making sincere efforts to win and maintain their people's trust, friendship, and confidence.
For those after more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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